Saturday, December 08, 2007

Jonathan Schell's Long View on Nuclear Disarmament

A very interesting interview at Tom Dispatch with Jonathan Schell, an expert on the issue of nuclear proliferation and disarmament.

TD: Let's move back, for a moment, to the immediate crisis. Let's talk about the Iranian nuclear situation. What do you make of it?

Schell: ... Iran is de facto heading down a path that leads towards the bomb. Whether they actually want to turn themselves into a nuclear power or, like India for many decades or Japan today, simply be ready to do so in a couple of months, I don't know. But they're enriching uranium. ...

... It appears that Iran is determined to have that technology and keep it, not roll it back. So you are left with the only other option within this framework -- the use of military force. I would say, though, that the surefire way of ensuring that Iran will go for the bomb is to attack them. ...

... The option which is never explored, although I'm convinced it's the key to breaking an impasse like this one, is for the nuclear powers to bring their own weapons to the negotiating table and say: We will reduce ours -- eventually down to zero -- on condition that you proliferators stop proliferating.

... ... ...

Now, imagine a situation in which these powers [Russia, China and the Nuclear Powers of the UN Security Council] have decided they are ready to surrender their own nuclear arsenals and rely on an abolition agreement in the same way they now rely on those arsenals for their security. There would be no disunity among them in approaching Iran. ... You would have a united global will which, in my opinion, would simply be irresistible to any country -- whether Iran, North Korea, or Israel -- that proposed to hold on to its own little arsenal in defiance of the united resolve of the Earth.

... ... ...

TD: Even if you were going to build down your nuclear arsenals over a long period…?

Schell: Even then. You could simply start off with a freeze everywhere. ... Russia and the United States would initially agree to go down to 500 weapons from their present combined 25,000 or so weapons. In exchange for that, Iran would stop its enrichment activities, or begin to dismantle its enrichment facilities. ...

Schell takes a fundamental long view, that the human race, once it began science was eventually going to find nuclear power and develop the ability to destroy the human race itself. And a similar long view of the future, the human race will have to come up with mechanisms to prevent its own destruction.

I agree with the fundamental view. The steps Schell proposes to reach that, that the US freeze its arsenal and in exchange everyone else freezes without nuclear weapons for the duration of some form of negotiations, would not work.

Few people understand that the non-weapons signatories of the NPT have never agreed to be permanently bereft of nuclear weapons. Much less did they agree to never become nuclear capable. They agreed that as long as they didn't have weapons, everyone should know they don't have weapons based on inspections by a neutral party.

Eventually, possibly and hopefully in my lifetime, the nuclear powers led by the United States will make an objective commitment - one that will be difficult or impossible to get out of - to fully disarm. That is the point where a general consensus toward disarmament can form that would be impossible for small states such as Iran, India, Israel, Pakistan, etc. to resist.

Until that point is reached, proposals to freeze the nuclear status quo in place pending further steps to be taken in the indefinite future will continue to be flatly denied by the non-weapons states. With good reason.

Two difficulties - why the problem has not been solved yet - are one that the United States is so far not unhappy with the status quo and does not have motivation to commit to disarmament and two that if the United States was willing to make a commitment, it would be difficult to enforce such a commitment if the US changes its mind later.

One observation is that there is some amount of serious thought and other resources that will have to be applied to these problems before solutions are reached. Even though the solutions are not in sight, they are very likely to exist. Kind of like the solutions to the problem of how to get more transistors than we can get today onto a given area of circuitry.

Until that time though, Schell is right that nuclear weapons capability is spreading, as if by destiny, to every corner of the human race. It is a very interesting interview to read.

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